Eileen smiled back at Tom, and paused, then slowed her walk. She glanced back to check her reflection in a car window, then startled as the glass suddenly rolled down.
“Nice hair,” a familiar voice laughed. “Kind of unkempt, you know,” he continued, “like you didn’t have to try too hard.” Eileen jumped, and felt her face warm as she looked back at the beat-up metal, all wrapped around a hemi engine. No. She looked away, froze, then looked back.
“Please leave!” Eileen whispered, nearly shaking in anger. Six months. He had been gone for six months, gone in a cloud of dust, tires spinning, leaving her on the side of that old dirt road. And now he had come to the big city, today, of all days, as though he knew, as though he could monitor her attraction to other men.
“All right, honey,” blackstrap voice deep and low. “I just drove up here to say I miss you. You’re lookin’ awful pretty, Eileen, you sure are.” Smoother when warm, yes he was. He started the car, pipes purring as he slowly pulled away.
Tom walked toward Eileen, “Are you all right?” he asked, now close. Eileen felt dizzy, and shut her eyes. Already, she had been in a rush, and now Luke Dupre had returned, once more, as inconvenient as the first time Eileen had seen him, as inconvenient as he always was. Tom put a hand on her shoulder. “Do you know him? Did he threaten you?”
“He surprised me,” Eileen answered, as she opened her eyes, surprised now more by Tom’s presence, his concern, his hand briefly on her arm, his shirt neatly tucked into the trim jeans, muscular legs beneath the denim. Eileen looked up. “I just didn’t expect anyone to be sitting in that car.”
“I’m surprised the piece of crap runs!” Tom scoffed. “Are you ready?” he asked, as he offered his arm. “Shall we?…”
“Sure…” Eileen hooked her arm in his. “Yes,” she straightened as she felt Tom’s strength, warm and certain. “Yes, we shall.” And they walked down the street.
For a few moments, the two walked in silence. Eileen felt faint as soon as her thoughts started to wander, so difficult it seemed to make ordinary conversation. Just now, starting out fresh, Tom seemed thoughtful, and conscientious. And hot. No denying it, Tom was attractive.
A yellow-shafted flicker flew low, and landed on the trunk of an old poplar tree.
“Look!” Eileen shouted. “Did you see it?”
“See what?” Tom answered.
“There, the flicker!” Eileen pointed to the tree.
“What is a flicker?” Tom asked her, looking as the bird went to work drumming. “The woodpecker?”
“Yes,” Eileen walked a little closer, closer, as the bird pecked around to the other side of the tree. She watched for a minute, and moved closer. The bird flew away.
“Oh, I scared it,” Eileen sighed.
“So you are quite the birder,” Tom remarked.
“Flickers are not so unusual,” Eileen said. “I just like them.”
A blue heron lumbered above the rooftops, flying no doubt between the two nearby ponds.
“I like them, too,” Eileen pointed at the heron.
“Now, what is that one called?” Tom asked.
“Really?” Eileen thought. “It’s a heron,” she answered. “I think they are lucky, but really, it is storks that are lucky. It’s just that we don’t have storks, so herons must be the closest thing.”
“Storks are lucky?” Tom asked. “Well, I guess babies are lucky.”
“Babies don’t come from storks, you know,” teased Eileen.
“Well, I can see I have a whole lot of learning to do,” Tom teased back. “Say, I can show you something you’ll like a lot,” Tom said.
“Show me what?” Eileen paused, flustered as her filthy eyes drifted unavoidably, quickly, to Tom’s jeans. What? Show her what? “You have a baby?” she joked.
“No, no babies here,” Tom said. “It’s a surprise.”
“A surprise…” Eileen repeated, her heart beating a little quicker as she began to recall her early afternoon reveries. “Hmm. You aren’t going to give me a hint?”
Tom kept walking, a grin now spreading.
“So, where are we going for coffee?” Eileen asked, changing the subject.
“There is a place just down the street,” Tom suggested.
“Where Have You Bean.” Eileen confirmed. She knew the place, the only place nearby except Dunkin’ Donuts, which thankfully was not the place he had in mind.
“I’ve been here all along,” Tom answered, and he stopped, turned, put his hand on Eileen’s shoulder. “Are you sure you are all right?” Tom asked, crinkling his forehead as he looked at her. Eileen looked at him, confused, saw his face clear, then turn red.
“Oh, you mean the coffee place…” Tom corrected himself. ”By the way,” Tom continued, “I don’t even know your name.”
“Eileen,” she answered, holding out her hand to shake.
“Eileen…” Tom repeated. “I’m Tom. Pleased to meet you, again,” he answered as he shook her hand, then held it tight for a moment before he let it go, then turned to walk again beside her.
They continued down the street toward town, now chatting, laughing. Tom was nice, easy. He smelled clean, green, clear, uncomplicated, direct, and the shock of Luke Dupre floated far from Eileen’s mind.